Hartley House

The Hartley House ca. 1890s, photographer unknown. [Image: Phil Sneve]

1305 East Superior Street | Architect: Oliver G. Traphagen | Built: 1889 | Lost: 1954

Born in the town of Shogomac alongside the banks of the St. John’s River in New Brunswick, Canada, Guilford Graham Hartley moved to Brainerd, Minnesota, in 1871 when he was eighteen years old. There he started his own timber business, cutting and hauling logs to lumber mills. The cattle he used for winter hauling spent the summer breaking the prairie land he owned in what was then Dakota Territory. While in Brainerd he also served as a state representative and expanded his business offerings to include general contracting, hardware, and merchandise.

Hartley married Minneapolis native Caroline Woodward (often called Carrie) in 1883, and two years later the couple moved to Duluth where he had been appointed registrar of the federal land office. He left the job within a year to manage the Duluth Street Railway Company, in which he had invested heavily. Hartley expanded his other business interests as well. He continued to invest in logging and branched out into real estate, wholesale foods and dry goods, shoe manufacturing, and more—by the late 1880s he had a hand in nearly every industry operating in Duluth. He even owned a majority interest in the Duluth News Tribune along with “Empire Builder” James J. Hill of St. Paul, then the richest man in Minnesota. Hartley later purchased Hill’s interest in the paper.

By 1889 the Hartleys had two children and a third was on the way. That year they asked Oliver Traphagen to design a grand twenty-one-room house at the northeast corner of Thirteenth Avenue East and Superior Street, then the eastern end of the railway company’s Superior Street line. Perhaps the Zenith City’s most distinctive Romanesque Revival mansion, the Hartley’s red brick-and-brownstone home stood poised on the banks of Chester Creek. It featured Roman-arch windows trimmed in heavy stone, four patterned brick chimneys, gables, porches, and triangular dormers bursting from its red tile roof. The front porch was supported by columns topped with Romanesque capitals, and its entrance portico was topped with a triangular pediment field with an elaborate stone carving; similar carvings could be found within other exterior elements. The building’s western side featured a large porte cochère. Inside, the twenty-one-room house boasted ten fireplaces and is thought to be the first home in Duluth wired for electricity. It also included a primitive air conditioning system which carried fresh air to every room and a telephone-like intercom system—and a telephone as well. In the 1950s, the Hartley’s youngest daughter Judith Lewis told reporters that her father became so irritated at the telephone he had it removed.

The estate included a matching Romanesque stable/carriage house with a large Roman-arch main entry that was nearly as stunning as the house. It included an elevator used to move carriages and sleighs to storage on the second floor, where John Valin, the Hartley family’s coachman for fifty years, kept his residence. In 1914 the animals had to start sharing their space with automobiles. Behind the house along Chester Creek sat a small cedar log cabin Hartley used as a private retreat, while property across Superior Street, where a bank now stands, was used as pasture land for the Hartleys’ horses and milk cow. Three of the Hartleys’ five children were born in the house, as well as several of their grandchildren.

In the 1890s Hartley began investing in iron mining. Along with his friend Chester Congdon and others, Hartley was instrumental in developing the western Mesabi Iron Range. While undergoing this work Hartley platted the Iron Range towns of Bovey, Cass Lake, Sparta, Grand Rapids, and Nashwauk. He also tried his hand at commercial farming. Hartley’s efforts to sell the produce grown at his Allandale Farm in Woodland helped popularize celery throughout the nation. (The farm property is now Hartley Park.) He also owned Island Farm, located about eighty miles northwest of Duluth, where he raised prize-winning Guernsey cows. Meanwhile he developed his Dakota Territory property into Hartley Stock Farms of Page, North Dakota, which raised Aberdeen-Angus hybrid cattle.

After J. J. Hill died in 1916, Minnesota governor Jacob Preus said that “G. G. Hartley [now] stands as the man of the broadest vision, most indomitable energy and greatest accomplishment of the citizens of Minnesota.” Hartley died in 1922 at sixty-eight, having never fully recovered from a 1918 bout of Spanish flu. The News Tribune, which he sold in 1921, wrote of Hartley that “his love of life was intense, his happiness when surrounded by the members of his family were illimitable, his interest in all the affairs going on about him was of the keenest. His mind was ever conceiving new projects. Planning and accomplishing was his life.”

Caroline lived in the house until her death in 1939. The Hartleys’ daughter Jessie and her husband Walter Congdon, eldest son of Clara and Chester Congdon, occupied the home until Jessie died in 1953. The house was razed in 1954, according to lore because the family did not want to see it converted into a boarding house. Hartley’s cedar cabin became the Plaza Sports Center, later renamed the Continental Ski Shop. It was removed when the business, now Continental Ski & Bike, moved across the street to 1305 East First Street in 1971. A Walgreens pharmacy was later built on the Hartley House lot; today it is home to an Ace Hardware store.

NOTE: This home’s story in the book Duluth’s Grand Old Architecture contains more exterior and  interior photographs of the house.